I am a car guy and traded in my wife's Lexus NX200t for the Mazda 3. While the MSRP is almost half of the Lexus' MSRP, it is comparable to the Lexus in terms of steering feel, handling, build and materials quality, and overall design. Car is loaded with active safety (FCW, BSM, RCTA, LKA) and convenience (heated steering wheel, HUD, adaptive LED headlights) features. Steering feel is absolutely excellent and performance is more than adequate for a compact hatchback. We love the design and the generous ground clearance rivaling most crossovers. Our only complaint is the road noise that is high even for this relatively cheap class of cars.
I have owned 13 vehicles in my lifetime and needless to say never bought the same care twice, out from my Mazda 3. The first Mazda I put over 100,000 - No issues ever, drove it to Snowshoe in the middle of winter and drove through the snow like a 4 wheel drive! Now I am on my next Mazda 3 and so far so good and it is super snazzy looking too!
2017 Mazda 3 Hatchback Sport 4dr Hatchback (2.0L 4cyl 6A)
My two previous cars were both Mazda Proteges, a 1994 1.8-liter and 1998 1.5-liter. This 2017 model gets significantly better gas mileage, has a lot more power, handles well and is quieter. My only complaints are minor (I have only had the car for seven weeks): 1) Some buttons seem backward to me, like the key fob where you press the top button to lock the door and vice versa to unlock the door. 2) I have found it difficult to get the seat high enough to see over the sloping hood without having the top of the steering wheel partially block the speedometer. 3) The stubs that keep the floor mats in place can be an annoying to foot placement. 4) Large posts somewhat restrict outward visibility, perhaps due to the extra reinforcement needed for a hatchback. After only seven weeks I can't speak to the long-term issues like reliability and maintenance. I waited until the 2018 models were out before buying this car (2017 Mazda3 Hatchback) and with a lot of research and patience felt I made a great deal getting the base model (Sport) for $17,600 which included tax, title and license (out-the-door price). The only add-ons were tinted windows (put on by the local dealer in the Phoenix, AZ area) and door bumper guards. I considered and test drove several other hatchbacks in the same class (Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, Kia Forte) but as prices dropped and models disappeared the Mazda rose to the top as the best-for-the-buck I could get, and so far I'm as happy as could be.
The car is nimble, rides well, and is comfortable. Rear seat access and comport are decent, as is storage space. We're shopping for modern driver assist features and this car's are the best so far - in particular the lane departure warning offers the choice of steering wheel shaking (my favorite) as well as two sound modes (tone and "rumble") with three volume levels where-as other makes we've considered offer just one sound at a low level, easily drowned out by road noise. The MT and clutch are great and though I prefer MT in general, the AT version performed very well and I'd be happy with either. This car is on our short list. (It will be replacing an older and much loved Jetta diesel with MT, our other cars are an E30 series BMW with MT and Subaru Outback with AT).